October 22, 2018

Honor to Whom Honor Is Due: A World Premier Scholar

The Apostle Paul reminded the Roman Christians, "Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor" (Romans 13:7, Christian Standard Bible). While Paul focused upon how Christians must respect government in particular, there is little doubt we must also give respect and honor to all who hold positions of authority. Some retain authority by reason of their office, while others possess authority due to their intrinsic character and their extrinsic work.

In 2016, Michael A.G. Haykin, Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality and Director of The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, approached me about presenting a paper to honor a significant Baptist historian as part of the Baptist Studies Group of the Evangelical Theological Society meeting in November 2017. While he first mentioned a prominent deceased Anabaptist Historian, Dr. Haykin shifted a few months later to ask me to focus upon a recently deceased and very prominent Baptist Historian.

It was an honor to present an essay on Barrington Raymond White. White exercised an unparalleled influence among Baptist historians after his The English Separatist Tradition was published by Oxford University Press in 1971. Indeed, at the Evangelical Theological Society, I made the bold claim that White should be deemed "the world’s premier scholar during the late twentieth century in the field of English Separatist and Early Baptist history."

Many scholars approached me afterwards to affirm this judgment. They agreed that he was due this honor from his students and colleagues. Now, you can read that essay, since it was recently published in the 2018 volume of The Journal of Baptist Studies. JBS is sponsored by the California Baptist University and edited by Anthony Chute and Matthew Y. Emerson.

Allow me a few words before I provide you the link to that essay. B.R. White should be honored for his critical historical work, because he demonstrated that Baptists derived from the English Separatist movement that arose during the late sixteenth century. For once and for all, in my opinion, White put to rest the claim that the Baptists can be demonstrated to have descended from the Anabaptists.

However, White should also be honored for two further reasons. The second reason that White should be memorialized is that he demonstrated how a good historian should conduct himself or herself with regard to primary subjects and secondary claims about the primary subjects. The essay spends a good bit of time describing White's historiographical method, a method worthy of emulation.

The third and final reason to honor Barrie White is because his personal character continues to shape not only scholarship but also soul. As I stated in the essay, "His sharpness of mind in historical thought, his wry humor, and his gentle demeanor will always stick in my mind and heart as part of what it takes to be a good scholar." White, formerly Principal of Regent's Park College at Oxford University, took time with me when I was a young student in Oxford and reveled in the early English Baptists with me. This venerable man did so, not because he had an agenda to use them for some other reason, but because he appreciated these precious human beings for who they actually were.

Professor White deserves honor because he was an honorable man. His work was received well because it proceeded from his virtuous soul. His legacy is secure because his character as a Christian shaped the way he conducted the tenor of his life. Barrie White is honored because, in the end, honor is due him. Personally, I pray God will grant me at least a modicum of his character. (I hope to honor other scholars and leaders in similar ways in the future, if the Lord so wills it.) 

You may read more about Barrie White in the essay, "The Reformation and Baptist Origins: The Unrefuted Conclusion of B.R. White," which is in volume 9 of The Journal of Baptist Studies. Along with a number of other good articles, also take a moment to read the piece on Walter Rauschenbusch by a recent co-author of mine, William H. Brackney. In this journal, both Brackney and I discuss the Anabaptists and the Baptists in relation to one another, always an interesting subject, as White, his predecessors, and his successors understood.

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